The massive destructive impact of flooding

Another, current, reminder from Italy of the massive human distress (and in this case loss of life), material damage, and economic cost of flooding.

And from earlier this year in Paris.

Oxford must be protected, soon.

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And in France too

Another extreme weather event reported by the BBC today:

France weather: Red alert as flash floods kill 13 in south-west

“At least 13 people have been killed by flash floods in the Aude region of south-western France. 

Local authorities say several months’ worth of rain fell in just a few hours overnight …”

Oxford can – and must – be prepared

The BBC reports further today on the serious Welsh floods

“Communities will want new flood defences after many Welsh rivers burst their banks during Storm Callum, Wales’ environment agency has warned.

Parts of Wales saw the worst flooding for 30 years ….

A 21-year-old man was killed after a landslip and many homes and businesses were flooded as Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and south Powys bore the brunt of the storm on Friday and over the weekend.”

We’ve been proactive in Oxford so we’re much further ahead – the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is currently being considered for planning approval. Whether the Welsh floods are in part related to climate change would require event attribution analysis to give an estimate of the probability that that is the case. But certainly it’s the sort of event that one would expect with climate change. It’s vital that Oxford’s as ready as it can be.

Raining hard

It’s raining steadily and hard here today, not enough to flood us but, after the severe flooding in Wales, a further reminder of the threat to Oxford.

Many, many houses and businesses, roads and railway were flooded in seven of the years between 2000 and 2014.

With climate change predicting far worse to come, Oxford needs protection.

This was Oxford in 2007

Severe flooding in Wales – a timely reminder

We’ve had a dry summer, river flows are low and flooding may seem a long way off. But it’s always a threat as this article on the BBC website today, about severe flooding in Wales, reminds one:

Storm Callum: Parts of Wales see ‘worst flooding in 30 years’

Whether this event is due in some part to climate change may be impossible to know for sure, but there is no doubt that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent across the world. Now is the time to prepare Oxford for that future.

The planning application for the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme is being scrutinised; if approved Oxford’s flood risk will be reduced. Without it Oxford will remain largely undefended and future generations will rightly ask why something wasn’t done while the opportunity was there.

See too https://oxfordfloodalliance.org.uk/2015/12/08/flooding-from-storm-desmond/

Salutary reading – predicted effects of climate change

The Environment Agency has today warned people to be prepared for flooding as it launches its Flood Action Campaign. The likely effects of climate change, with more frequent and intense flooding, are emphasised.

Press Release                                                                                                                 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/climate-change-means-more-frequent-flooding-warns-environment-agency

In our local paper http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/national/15998116.Climate_change_to_make_intense_floods_more_frequent__Environment_Agency_warns/

On ITV News                                                                                                                                                 http://www.itv.com/news/2018-02-16/flooding-uk-climate-change/

Seacourt P&R: Planning Review Committee meeting

Oxford City Council’s Planning Review Committee met last night to reconsider the application to extend Seacourt park and ride. This had previously been approved by West Area Planning Committee but a review had been requested by concerned councillors.

The review committee confirmed the previous decision.

There is a report in the Oxford Mail.

We believe this decision is a huge mistake and we are disturbed by aspects of the decision-making process.

There is no lack of parking spaces here, nor overall. Should it ever be needed, better usage of existing parking could easily be achieved by live signage on the ring road. We have collected online data and visited the site over the very busy pre and post Christmas periods – the existing car park has never once been full. Opening of the new Westgate has not caused problems and many people clearly choose to drive into the city rather then use park and ride.

The cost is huge, £4.1 million is already budgeted. And there are many other urgent calls on the public purse. People are homeless and sleeping on the streets just a mile away.

The site floods from groundwater – an aspect that has received scant attention, despite our highlighting it repeatedly. Because of groundwater flooding there will be a net loss of floodplain if this development goes ahead. The site will also flood when the rivers flood. This will make it expensive to pump out, maintain and repair.

The decision is undoubtedly contrary to national planning guidance (NPPF) which is there to protect the floodplain and Green Belt. A previous extremely similar application on the site was the subject of a Planning Enquiry in 1998 and refused by the Secretary of State in 1999. Since 2007 the guidance has been strengthened following the Pitt Report on the Oxford and nation-wide flooding in 2007.

It is possible that the present application will be Called-in by the present Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid:  we have requested, jointly with Layla Moran MP, that this should happen. If the application is Called-in a Public Enquiry will follow. The reason for our request is that a decision to develop a car park in the floodplain sets a serious national precedent. Building in the floodplain is deplorable, except in the most exceptional cases – which this most certainly is not.

If the extension does eventually go ahead it is not impossible that the Council will in time come to regret it – as construction costs rise, maintenance is expensive due to recurrent flooding (exacerbated by climate change) and occupancy is low. But that will be no comfort  – much better it should never happen in the first place.

 

Flood Alerts and opposition to OFAS – on the same day …

Today there are Environment Agency Flood Alerts for our area. As we write, water from ditches to the west is starting to accumulate in a corner of King George’s Field, behind Duke and Earl Streets, as it does at the start of every flood. More rain is forecast tonight.

And on the very same day we read of opposition to the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme in the Oxford Mail. The Scheme is designed to save many, many hundreds of homes and businesses from recurrent flooding, at enormous stress, disruption, and financial cost – to individuals, families, businesses, and the whole Oxford community. Climate change is widely expected to make things far worse in the future. We’ve been at this for ten years now and in our opinion (and that of many others) there is no viable alternative, “Green” or otherwise. If we don’t get the Oxford Flood Alleviation Scheme it’ll simply be a disaster for Oxford.

Thoughts on OFAS

Why do we need a flood scheme at all?

We have had five major floods since 2000 and climate change will make things worse (indeed there is evidence from Oxford University that it already has). Oxford residents, and the economic well-being of the City, will suffer badly if something is not done. While the scheme will cause disruption during its construction it is imperative that Oxford is protected.

But what about downstream, won’t they be worse off?

All the detailed computer modelling for the Scheme (and we have recently heard on the grapevine that a totally independent consultancy has confirmed this ) says that flooding will not be made worse downstream. We know that comparisons are made with the Jubilee River – this scheme is nothing like that. Indeed OFAS is actually increasing the capacity of the floodplain, which together with bunding and rerouting of flow will reduce flood risk to many hundreds of properties.

Is it a concrete channel?

No, it isn’t. What it is is a much more naturalistic 2-stage channel, used around the world for flood relief.

How will the environment be affected?

While there will, regrettably, be some environmental losses, we are pressing hard – collaborating with the Environment Agency, and with support from others, particularly the Freshwater Habitats Trust – for environmental enhancements as part of the scheme. While one cannot compare one environmental loss directly with another environmental gain we believe the positives will be considerable.

Maintenance.

It’s so important that there is a plan now for the very long-term maintenance of the Scheme. In our experience over the last 10 years  “if maintenance can be neglected it probably will be”. There are some honourable exceptions and we certainly have we have no criticism whatever of the local EA maintenance team, who achieve a huge amount with very limited resources. Others do nothing or very little unless goaded and embarrassed into action. This Scheme, being “natural” will deteriorate quickly if not proactively maintained. The initial intent was to plan maintenance for 10 years: that is simply not good enough for such an expensive and important project. We have proposed that maintenance be planned for in perpetuity by setting up a responsible, funded, local body, maybe as a charitable trust (or similar).

A Green group

thinks that Oxford could and should be protected by very different means – while they are short on specifics, their main idea seems to be that planting enough trees upstream in the Cotswolds would solve Oxford’s problems. It wouldn’t. Expert opinion at our 2015 Symposium of Natural Flood Management (NFM)  made that very clear. Even afforesting the whole of the Cotswolds (not that that would ever happen) would not do the job. Oxford is simply too far downstream for that. That’s not to say that NFM can’t work in smaller catchments, nor that it might not make a contribution.

Flooding land upstream?

The Environment Agency’s Oxford Flood Risk Management Strategy (OFRMS) suggests this may be needed one day if climate change makes things sufficiently bad. Involving as it would temporary flooding large areas of farmland and other land it is never likely to be easy to implement.

 

 

Seacourt P&R – Key Point 3: NPPF

 

National planning policy framework (NPPF) guidelines strongly recommend against the positioning of developments that are categorised (in this case according to the Environment Agency) as ‘less vulnerable’, in Flood Zone 3b, functional floodplain.

Sir Michael Pitt’s report on the severe and widespread summer floods of 2007 said there should be ‘a presumption against building in high flood risk areas in accordance with PPS25’ [now NPPF]  (Pitt Review; ‘Implementation and Delivery Guide, 2008: Final Recommendation 7). The guidance should be ‘kept under review and strengthened if and when necessary’ (Final Recommendation 8).

The title of Sir Michael Pitt’s report is ‘Learning Lessons from the 2007 Floods’. This development is far from being essential and NPPF should be adhered to. To do otherwise would set a very dangerous precedent.

See Key Point 1 and Key Point 2